CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s too little too late, but the Knicks staged a perfect night at Spectrum Center with a blend of young and old producing.
While veteran guard Evan Fournier set a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a season, breaking John Starks’ mark, the Knicks youngsters were impressive, RJ Barrett was efficient and they routed the Hornets on Wednesday from start to finish, 121-106.
And they did so without two-thirds of their starting frontcourt of Julius Randle (sore quad) and Mitchell Robinson (sore back), which is telling.
The Knicks didn’t miss a beat and they sank 20 3-pointers — four off their franchise record, thrilling a large contingent of Knicks fans in the arena.
“We played real hard and very unselfish,’’ Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought it was one of our best games of the year, in a lot of different areas.’’
Obi Toppin, their 2020 lottery pick, filled in at power forward, scored 10 points in the first quarter and finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, capped by an alley-oop slam with 2:00 left.
Barrett, who had been shooting 39 percent the past 12 games, had an efficient night of 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting making 7 of 8 free throws.
“When we get in the paint and spray [share the ball] and make the right plays, myself included, it’s tough to guard,’’ Barrett said. “We played well from start to finish. It was beautiful, amazing basketball and it was fun to be a part of.’’
Even rookie center Jericho Sims, making his first career start, was a live wire with three baskets around the rim early that set a tone as the Knicks built a 19-point lead in the first half.
Rookie point guard Miles McBride pumped in two 3-pointers and played a heady game in moving the ball crisply.
The Knicks’ strength this season is depth and it showed Wednesday against a Hornets club (37-36) that had won five straight and was in ninth place in the East.
“The silver lining when you’re shorthanded like this is your young guys are getting an opportunity to play and they’re learning and growing,’’ Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes, that’s a how a guy gets going in this league. The important thing for us is to play winning basketball. Play the right way, Play hard. Play unselfish, play together’’
Fournier, who finished with 12 points, all on 3s, needed three 3-pointers to tie Starks and aced it late in the first half. With the Hornets reducing the Knicks’ 19-point lead to six in the third, Fournier’s record-setting basket — his 218th 3 of the season — came from the left wing and put the Knicks up nine points with 1:38 left.
The Knicks clinched a losing season Tuesday with the loss to the Hawks, but their bounce-back win moved them to 31-42 with nine games left. They are 5 ½ games behind the Hawks for 10th place and the final spot in the play-in tournament.
“It’s like bittersweet,’’ Fournier said. “I’m proud, happy about it. At the same time, it’s a team sport. You want to have more success.’’
Toppin, who has struggled to get playing time behind Randle, was active and productive. In the opening minute he took a long feed for a fast-break dunk and make his first four shots, including a 3-pointer.
“He made a number of good plays — running the floor, moving it side-to-side, shot when he was open, drove it, made the extra pass,’’ Thibodeau said. “He had a great floor game and I think that helped us a ton.’’
The Knicks led 40-24 after the first quarter. Taj Gibson, who has improved his 3-point shooting, came off the bench and drilled two straight 3-pointers and the Knicks were up 19 points early in the second quarter.
“I felt good today,’’ said Toppin, who was in foul trouble Tuesday against the Hawks when he also started for Randle. “We knew we just came off that loss against Atlanta, knew we needed to bounce back and bring a lot of energy into this game, a lot of positivity and just have fun and play our game. I felt like we all did that today.”
“I think we had like 19 assists in the first half. We were moving the ball, getting open shots, finding the open man. It was just fun playing that way, being out there playing with a lot of joy and sharing the basketball.’’
There haven’t been enough nights like it.